WHAT I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS
By Robert Green Ingersoll
The Arena, Boston, December 1897
If I had the power to produce exactly what I want for next Christmas, I would have all the kings and emperors resign and allow the people to govern themselves.
I would have all the nobility crop their titles and give their lands back to the people. I would have the Pope throw away his tiara, take off his sacred vestments, and admit that he is not acting for God — is not infallible — but is just an ordinary Italian. I would have all the cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests and clergymen admit that they know nothing about theology, nothing about hell or heaven, nothing about the destiny of the human race, nothing about devils or ghosts, gods or angels. I would have them tell all their “flocks” to think for themselves, to be manly men and womanly women, and to do all in their power to increase the sum of human happiness.
Photo credit: LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
Robert G. Ingersoll, shown between 1865 and 1880.
What was Robert Ingersoll’saddress? Answer Man is confident many readers are wondering, “Who the heck was Robert Ingersoll?”
Well, he is the most famous American you never heard of.
Col. Ingersoll — he fought for the Union in the Civil War after raising a cavalry regiment from Illinois — was a lawyer who counted the wealthy and powerful among his clients. He was a committed Republican who stumped for GOP candidates. He was a silver-tongued orator whose lectures drew thousands — and earned him thousands of dollars a pop. He was also, by all accounts, a really nice guy.
And Ingersoll accomplished all of this without believing in God.
Ingersoll’s disbelief was the quality that most fascinated the 19th-century audiences that packed theaters to hear him speak. He was known as the Great Agnostic. Some called him blasphemer or infidel.
It’s no surprise that so many influential thinkers and creative types have come from the ranks of these intellectual revolutionaries. Organized religion tends to reward people not for thinking creatively or critically, but for reciting and defending the dogmas of the previous generation. Throughout human history, it has consistently been true that hidebound theocracies have been mired in poverty, backwardness and intellectual stagnation, whereas the most dramatic advances have come about in times and places where people had the freedom to think for themselves, to freely question and debate. The lives of the men and women recounted here bear testimony to this.